- George Wright, Vitaly Shevchenko & Paul Kirby
- BBC News
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that peace with Ukraine will only happen “when we achieve our objectives”.
He fielded questions from journalists and ordinary Russians at his first marathon news conference since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022.
Much of the show is choreographed to what he calls a “special military operation in Ukraine.”
He emphasized that the situation was improving across the front line.
In a “Live Line” program televised for more than four hours by most major channels, President Putin told Russians: “The existence of our country is impossible without sovereignty. It simply will not exist.”
He said Russia’s economy was too strong for a war, and the topic of conversation quickly moved to Ukraine.
‘617,000 Russians Fighting in Ukraine’
Mr Putin said: “There will be peace [in Ukraine] When we achieve our objectives”. Those “objectives will not change”, he said, listing “annihilation, demilitarization and its neutrality”. These were the themes he had highlighted since the start of the war.
At one point he revealed that Russia currently has a total of 617,000 troops fighting in Ukraine. He added that of the 300,000 called up for service last year, another 486,000 have voluntarily signed up as contract soldiers.
The flow of our men who are ready to protect the welfare of the motherland with weapons in hand has not decreased. “The total will be just under half a million men by the end of the year. Why do we need mobilization?”
He did not provide military casualties, but revealed that the children of those in his “intimate” circle had fought in so-called private military companies, and that many of those “close to me” had died.
A U.S. intelligence report estimated this week that 315,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the war began — nearly 90% of Russia’s military personnel at the start of the invasion.
Apart from the spontaneous questions put to Mr Putin by Russian and international journalists, two million questions were submitted for the event by ordinary Russians and carefully considered.
A war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia in occupied Luhansk, eastern Ukraine, briefed Mr Putin on Ukraine’s latest foothold on the Russian-occupied east bank of the Dnipro River.
Describing Ukraine’s military victory in a “small area” as Ukraine’s last-ditch effort to penetrate Crimea, President Putin explained that Russian forces had decided to withdraw several meters into wooded areas to “save our boys”. He suggested that Kiev’s main objective was to show the West that it needed more military funding.
“I don’t know why they are doing this, they are pushing their own people to kill, this is a road trip for Ukrainian forces. The reasons for this are political, because Ukrainian leaders are begging foreign countries for help.”
Mr Putin said support for Ukraine from its allies was waning.
“Ukraine today produces almost nothing,” he said. “Pardon my rudeness, but everything comes for free. But those freebies run out at some point. And they seem to be running out gradually.”
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky warned at an EU summit that Mr Putin would decide against him over the war in Ukraine.
“People in Europe will not see any benefit if they get a pass from Brussels to be negative towards Ukraine. Putin will certainly use this against you and against all of Europe,” Mr Zelensky said via video link.
Mr Putin said Russian forces dominated the front line in Ukraine.
“Our armed forces are improving their situation, to put it mildly,” he said at his marathon news conference, “practically in full contact.”
There has been little movement on the front lines in recent months, but Russia has been targeting Maringa and Avdivka, two eastern cities in the Donetsk region.
Mr Putin insisted Russia could “move forward” despite Western economic sanctions and political isolation stemming from its occupation of Ukraine.
Americans were held in Russian prisons
Mr Putin also described Russian relations with the US and the EU.
He described America as an important country but accused it of imperialism. He urged the US to “respect other peoples and countries” and said Russia was ready to restore relations once this happened.
New York Times reporter Valerie Hopkins asked the Russian leader what it would take for Russia to free two American citizens held in Russian prisons — Ivan Gershkovich, a widely respected reporter for the Wall Street Journal, and Paul Whelan, a former Marine.
The US considers both men wrongly detained and Mr Gershkovich’s detention was extended on Thursday until January 30. He was arrested while reporting for a newspaper in Yekaterinburg and charged with espionage, which he and his colleagues vehemently deny.
“As for a possible transfer … we would like to reach an agreement, that agreement should be mutually acceptable and applicable to both sides,” Mr Putin replied, pointing out that the men were subject to a court order.
“There is a conversation going on on this topic. It’s a difficult conversation, I won’t go into details now, but overall I think we’re talking in a language we both understand. I hope we’ll find a solution.”
At one point President Putin confirmed that opposition figures were being hunted in Russia.
Asked by a reporter whether the criminal code would be changed to prevent “witch hunts” against journalists, including a pro-Kremlin colleague, Mr Putin said: “What did she do to be hunted? What is she, some big opposition party or something?”
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s biggest opposition figure, faces up to 19 years in prison and has been unable to reach him for more than a week, his group says.
Putin’s other talking points
- The Russian leader responded to the decision to allow Russian athletes to participate 2024 Olympics Until they compete in Paris without their country’s flags, symbols or anthems
- He said he supported Russian athletes competing, but if the event was designed to portray Russian sport as “dying”, the country should consider whether to participate.
- He also spoke about the conditions there GazaIt describes the unfolding “catastrophe” on a scale “nothing” like Ukraine
- On that day Artificial Intelligence (AI)Mr Putin – responding to an AI system twice his size – said Russia should become a world leader in AI
- He again blamed the bombs that destroyed America Nord Stream Pipelines September 2022 without providing any evidence to Russia.
Additional reporting by Sandro Vetsko